Neighborhoods flush with funds, not support

March 8, 2023, 12:01 a.m.

Each of Stanford’s eight neighborhood councils now has a budget of approximately $500,000 after receiving extra funds this year to promote community identity, according to Dean of Residential Education Cole Shiflett. Despite this cash pile, students charge that events and community haven’t materialized.

“I’ve been to some neighborhood events where there were literally zero people,” Jacob Neidig ʼ24 said. “My friends and I showed up and were like, ‘Oh wow, there’s no one here, we’re going to leave.’” Many students attribute this lack of interest to an absence of cohesive community between residences in each neighborhood.

“I’ve never been to a neighborhood event, I don’t know what neighborhood events are, I don’t know anyone who’s ever mentioned anything about a neighborhood event,” Mary Markley ’23 said. “Honestly, I don’t even know what neighborhood I’m in.”

The neighborhood council funds, which vary slightly depending on the size of each neighborhood, can be used for community building, all-campus events, improvements to residences or student-organized events.

Each neighborhood council is allocated $252,911 for their events and $74,367 for hosting visiting speakers, according to council agendas used by each neighborhood council. The rest of the funding goes to the students and residences for “off the farm” excursions to the bay, substance-free alternative social programming and general “community enhancements,” the agendas said.

Intra-neighborhood events include the neighborhood welcome barbecue ($18,500), quarterly neighborhood festivals ($22,500) and one neighborhood all-campus event ($95,000). These funds are included in the $252,911 event funds. Neighborhood N spent its all-campus event budget on the Fantastic Negrito concert in November, but the rest of the neighborhoods have yet to hold their all-campus events. 

Neighborhood A used a Fizz poll to recruit community ideas for its on-campus event two weeks ago. “What do you want your N-A all-campus event to be??? I heard the budget is massive,” the caption read.

The post netted 16 downvotes. A comment below the post that said, “Common neighborhood system L,” received 31 upvotes.

Each neighborhood council has put on at least 17 events since the start of the year, including the welcome barbecues, movie nights, goat yoga and cafe nights. But students say these events have been ineffective.

“I don’t think that holding a barbecue or something is going to make people make friends with people from other dorms who they otherwise never interact with,” Markley said. 

The neighborhood system attempts to provide students with “thriving friendships” and “communal support,” according to the ResEd website. Some students feel that neither of those goals are advanced in their neighborhoods.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you spend,” Lawrence Chen ’26 said. “It’s not going to change the social structure.”

Students have criticized the neighborhoods since their inception, focusing on what they described as a lack of defined community and the increased obstacles the system creates for the housing process. “You have ⅛ of the housing options that you would have had,” said Markley.

Shiflet, responding to criticism over spending on unpopular neighborhood-wide events in comparison to the funding received by each house, emphasized the large amount of neighborhood funding reserved to the houses. Beyond neighborhood staff-led events, students can request these neighborhood funds for individual proposals. According to Shiflett, over 100 of these student proposals have been granted by the council, and funding remains available for students in all neighborhoods.

“Each council allocates a large portion of the funds within their purview to house-sponsored programs,” Shiflett said. “The house communities are the heart of the neighborhoods and this year they have more resources than ever before to engage their residents in meaningful and fun programs.”

For example, each house can receive thousands of dollars in “substance-free funds” for events that must be held on Fridays and Saturdays as alternative programming to parties with alcohol or drugs. Houses can use this funding for on-calls or similar events. Frosh residence Larkin, for instance, hosts Lark-At-Nights on the weekends with this type of neighborhood funding.

“If there’s a couple of houses and none of them are interacting with each other, at least they should be happy within the house,” Larkin resident Yujina Basnet ’26 said. “And we’re being happy within the house with the money, so great.”

Also available are thousands of dollars in “community-enhancement funds” for each residence, which can be used for house upgrades or hosting house events.

Neidig, a Mars resident, said he applied for and received about $1,000 of this funding to host a Super Bowl party in Mars on Feb. 12. According to Neidig, between 25 and 50 people across Neighborhood A congregated in Mars to eat hundreds of dollars in snacks and non-alcoholic beverages while watching the game on the self-op’s screen. 

“It would be really hard to have a wide reach of an event without neighborhood funds, because it allows for you to support a big number of people coming,” Neidig said. “And people feel more included, like they’re actually welcome to show up.”

Neidig attributed some of the event’s success to neighborhood funding, but said that he believes the high turnout for his event stemmed from his position as a student organizer. 

“Neighborhood events hosted by staff don’t actually bring things to the social scene that students want,” Neidig said. “I think it’s hard for them to actually understand what students will show up for and what incentivizes students to come to social events.”

Columbae resident Ellie Dunn ’23 asked her neighborhood council for around $200 to host a gender-affirming clothing swap later in March. The clothing swap, an opportunity for students to “try out different personal styles and different gender presentations,” began last year as an unfunded event. However, after adding a new “upcycling” component to this year’s clothing swap, Dunn said that she decided to look into neighborhood system funding.

“We kind of had to dig through the neighborhood website, and it’s obviously just a lot of propaganda,” Dunn said. “Like, it’s ‘yay, here’s your neighborhood, community building!’ but it’s not a lot of practical information, like ‘here’s the form to apply for funding.’”

The proposal form and guidelines are available in the bi-weekly neighborhood newsletters. According to the guidelines, students should first contact a Residential Assistant (RA), Residential Fellow (RF) or neighborhood council representative to “consult” them on a proposal. If one of the individuals contacted approves the initiative or proposal, they can receive access to a proposal submission form that will be read and evaluated at the next council meeting.

Dunn eventually received and submitted a proposal for neighborhood funding. The Neighborhood A Council approved her request two weeks later at the bi-weekly council meeting.

“I didn’t know when or where it was,” Dunn said of the meeting. “It was such a black box to me, I kind of just submitted this Qualtrics form into the void.” 

Residents of Columbae also applied to buy an espresso machine for the house last quarter. 

Muki Kozikoglu ’24, who requested the machine, wrote in the funding proposal that Columbae residents were “being deprived of high-quality coffee.” The machine, which Columbae residents affectionately nicknamed “Celestine,” arrived a few weeks later. 

Kozikoglu, a self-described detractor of the neighborhood system, said that neighborhood funding can still be a tool for resident empowerment. 

“As one resident, you can fill out the form and say ‘you want this,” and then the neighborhood council decides if the house gets it,” Kozikoglu said. “Individual residents have more agency than they used to.”

But Kozikoglu started to laugh after hearing how much money each neighborhood receives. 

“I would want zero neighborhood funds,” Kozikoglu said. “All house funds. Then, every house can just decide for themselves whatever they want to spend it on.”

Dunn echoed the sentiment. “Are you kidding?” Dunn asked in between huffs of laughter.

Neidig’s mouth dropped when he found out. “I just have questions,” Neidig said. 

Neidig said he was disappointed in the allocation of funds. 

“There is possibility for the neighborhood system,” Neidig said. “So, it’s just kind of sad right now that we haven’t figured out how to use the money toward good events.”

Ananya Udaygiri is the Vol. 265 Video Managing Editor. A sophomore from Houston, TX, she sometimes writes for News -- and on bad days, for Humor.

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